Durban - A Newlands West housing development has been invaded by hundreds of informal settlement residents taking over the 96 incomplete flats being built by Jay Singh.
However, there was confusion on Thursday with one of the city’s spokesmen saying that it owned the site and was trying to get an eviction order. But this was later contradicted.
Tozi Mthethwa, head of communications at eThekwini Municipality, said the city was not seeking any court action against the occupants as it did not own the development. Mthethwa said the city had offloaded pieces of land to a number of developers but said Singh’s Woodglaze Trading and Gralio Contruction were not among them.
“The city is not involved in the development, the land has been sold off. If Woodglaze or Gralio are involved it is through one of the other developers,” she said.
A spokesman for Singh, Mervyn Reddy, said that an urgent application had been lodged on Wednesday at the Durban High Court, to be heard on Thursday. Reddy said Singh had the paperwork to prove ownership.
Singh’s common law wife, Shireen Annamaly, heads up Woodglaze Trading, which is building the homes.
The court last week ordered that work at the site be halted after concerns were raised about the alleged failure of the developer to register the project with the National Home Builders Registration Council (NHBRC), as required by law.
“We were alerted by the council that people were marching here and they took illegal occupation of the flats, which are privately owned and administered by Woodglaze. We immediately called the SAPS,” Reddy said.
Reddy said the people had marched to the development at 10pm on Tuesday and had defied the orders of the police and the company’s private security company to disperse.
“They forcefully moved their way in,” Reddy said.
Phoenix Residents and Tenants Association executive member, Ntuthuko Nala, said between 400 and 500 “furious” Newlands West residents from transit camps in Castlehill Road and Newlands Road had marched to the development.
“The people say they are fed up with the municipality promising houses and there are houses in front of them and according to them (the people) the houses are finished,” Nala said.
However, Nala said when he arrived at the scene it was clear that the development was incomplete.
“They started singing and toyi-toying. They were there the whole night,” he said.
“We would like (Public Protector) Thuli Madonsela to investigate,” he said.
When the Daily News visited the site on Wednesday afternoon several people were seen engaging with the police, while about 30 others were inside the units and had gathered on balconies. Some of the units appeared to have been “booked” by people who had splashed their names boldly on the walls in red and black paint.
The units were incomplete and toilets could be seen stored in one of the flats awaiting fitting. Members of the private KS Body Guarding security company were situated at the entrances of the development.
A witness at the site, who refused to give his name, said all 96 units had been occupied illegally overnight on Wednesday.
One of the occupants, whose name is known to the Daily News, said her family had slept in a flat because they were “fighting” for a house after living in a transit camp since 2009: “We slept on the floor last night to make sure we get a house.”
Reddy said the squatters were under the mistaken impression that the property belonged to eThekwini. However, he said it was Jay Singh’s privately owned development, funded by Woodglaze, and for which the developer had already identified tenants.
He said this was not the right way to express frustration over housing: “When they set a precedent here it will have a ripple effect on other private development in eThekwini.”
Newlands West ANC councillor, Siphiwe Hendrick, said it was not acceptable for people to invade private property.
He said people living in Newlands West had not been provided with details on how to apply to rent a flat in the development and believed that they had been allocated to people from other areas.
Hendrick said he had been trying to meet the developer over the past 12 months, without success, and would now try to meet Singh.